This November, Clayton will hold its first alcohol referendum in nearly 20 years.
The Clayton Town Council on Monday agreed to put the town’s beer and wine laws to the voters, a proposition that could relax some of the strictest alcohol rules in Johnston County.
As it stands now, Clayton restaurants can serve a glass of beer, but bottle shops like Wine on Main can’t, unless they operate as a private club, like Clayton Beverage, which carries a costlier permit. The measure would put Clayton on similar footing with areas like the Cleveland community or all of Wake County, where craft beer thrives as an industry.
Clayton last voted on alcohol in 1997, the same year as the rest of Johnston County, and with mixed results. Town voters limited beer sales to restaurants, and while Clayton precincts supported beer sales in the county referendum, the measure failed in the rest of Johnston. Earlier this year, a malt beverage committee formed by Clayton recommended putting beer back on the ballot.
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The Johnston County Board of Commissioners on Monday also voted to hold an alcohol referendum this fall. Clayton attorney Katherine Ross recommended the town council mirror its referendum after the county’s so that if beer fails at the county level, the voice of Clayton voters would not be drowned out. County commissioners voted to put on- and off-premise beer and wine sales on the ballot.
“Were the county to pass and the town to fail, the county would supersede, because everyone would be allowed [to purchase beer] across the county,” Ross said. “Were the county’s referendum to fail and the town’s to pass, then it would pass, and it would be allowed in Clayton.”
Johnston County and Clayton are different places than they were 19 years ago, and each has an evolving cultural relationship with alcohol. Clayton recently honored a downtown brewery as its business of the year, while Johnston has added a brewery and distillery itself.
Mayor Jody McLeod asked Ross her thoughts on whether Clayton needed to do anything at all.
“Are we better to allow the county’s referendum to go forward and see how it pans out or to have the town’s and the county’s and make sure ours includes malt beverage and unfortified wine?” McLeod asked.
Ross said a town referendum offered Clayton greater control and, at $500, was a worthwhile way to hedge the town’s bet. The Johnston County Board of Elections will have the final say on whether either referendum appears on November ballots.
“Regardless of how the county acted, moving forward from a town perspective enables the town to have the alcohol referendum it wants,” she said. “In this case, you’re not trying to be more restrictive than the county, and therefore it really doesn’t matter.”
Also on Monday, the town council approved what looks to be another piece of downtown Clayton’s nightlife puzzle. Revival 1869, a craft cocktail bar, received its special-use permit to open at 222 E. Main St. Owners Maleah Christie and Mike Stojic plan to open a whiskey and piano lounge; landlord James Lipscomb is currently renovating the former real estate office into a space more apt to sling mixed drinks.
The bar will have two main rooms, one with a bar and high-top tables and another with tables and a piano. The owners also have plans for an outdoor patio in back of the building.
Councilman Michael Grannis asked whether the cocktail bar planned to serve food, as the owners had suggested to the planning board two months ago. Stojic said that the only food served would be snacks and that they had no plans to cook food or invite food trucks to park along Main Street.
“What we’d like to have are artisan-type snacks that we’re going to source locally,” Stojic said. “We’re not going to have any sort of back-of-the-house kitchen. We’re strictly bar/lounge.”
Revival 1869 is slated to open this fall.
Drew Jackson: 919-553-7234, Ext. 104; @jdrewjackson